A midterm reflection
At the midterm point of this final student teaching field experience, I have been reflecting on the value of what I have learned in this program, and on what I hope to improve. I have had the chance to receive constructive feedback from my cooperating teaching and my university supervisor, and I am adding it to the teaching experience I had coming into this program. This experience, combined with motherhood and life experience, gives me insight into how students learn, and into my own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to effective teaching methods.
I entered this program to become formally certified to teach, and to earn a Masters degree. Prior to this, I had five years’ experience teaching in Catholic schools, as well as the nine years’ experience teaching the Music Together curriculum. I have also directed the middle school musical for six years, a task I undertake less for the logistics of a production and more for the literary and team-building, life lessons students learn through the experience.
I have learned that we all have a lot to learn, a valuable reminder in a field where many veterans become jaded and cynical. I have deepened my relationship with the school and learned much more about the system. I have observed some teachers who are set in their ways and unwilling to adapt and change, and I have observed teachers who are constantly adapting in order to incorporate new technologies or teaching strategies to better their students’ chances to learn. I have gained great respect for the teachers with whom I work every day, and I have goals in mind that will help me emulate their skills and success. (Domain 4)
The two biggest areas in which I hope to improve are questioning techniques and vocal inflection. The one chance I had to watch a filmed lesson I delivered was from a day on which I was ill, a fact that is made clear in my lackluster expression vocally and facially. I usually consider myself an engaging instructor with a natural rapport with kids, but that day it was not falling in to place. I have since recognized this happening in moments here and there, and I know it will improve with comfort and familiarity as I gain more experience teaching this subject at this level. I hope to keep improving my questioning techniques, and to ask students questions that lead them to the learning. My supervisor recently reminded me that “the one doing the work is doing the learning,” a great reminder to lead them there but don’t club students over the head with the answers. (Domain 3)
If I were to identify my strengths at this point, I am comfortable saying that I create a classroom environment in which students feel respected and safe, and engaged in learning, for the most part. This won’t be true of every student every day, but it is the area in which I feel most steady. (Domain 2) Student learning is dependent on their basic needs being met, and on being treated with respect. When students know their thoughts are welcomed and valued, they are willing to take risks and explore ideas out loud. This exploratory atmosphere of questioning and collaborating is one I hope to create in my classroom and maintain for the entire school year.
Have you ever watched a recording of yourself for research? Many of us dislike even hearing our own recorded voices, but the experience of watching and listening to a filmed recording of oneself, if one's profession requires being in front of a crowd, is essential. Are you a performer? An actor? A musician? A professor? A public speaker? A TEACHER? Then, this is one of the best ways to improve the quality of what you deliver. The immense value of watching oneself in action became apparent to me very quickly as I watched the video recording of my recent 8th grade ELA lesson. My overall performance was satisfactory, but I was not as animated or expressive as I usually feel I am. My voice lacked inflection. Whether I was a bit under the weather (very true, the calendar and the flu did not work out for me this day) or even a little nervous (I didn’t think I was...) might have contributed, but I recognize some habits that I would like to change. I also recognize the expert tone of my CT, who chimed in here and there. The objective was to have students synthesize all they had learned from our six-week unit on the Holocaust into one piece of persuasive writing: a business letter to our Curriculum Coordinator. I wanted them to learn to reflect on the vast amount of knowledge they have gained in recent weeks, and be selective in how they use that knowledge to convey a perspective.
At the very beginning of this lesson, I was holding my hand to my chest, which looks awkward and I realize is a nervous habit. My voice was not as expressive as I think it is usually, and as a theater director this was hard for me to see and hear. I relaxed after about five minutes, and asked some good, thought-provoking questions of the students. I used their names and called on a variety of kids. We had some good answers. The students were participating and being well-behaved.
I broke them into pairs and assigned pairs to one or the other side of the argument. At tables of four, they debated the issue at hand, using claims on the board as their evidence. This helped them work through the argument. Some students were not as engaged as I would have liked. This made me want to foster this kind of engagement between students, and work small-group discussion into class more often. I had received feedback on prior lessons from my Drexel Supervisor, Mrs. Smith, regarding questioning techniques and eliciting feedback from the students, and tried to ask open-ended questions, and ask questions of as many students as possible. I worked my way around the room consistently, and used most students’ names as I called on them.
As we moved on to the independent writing part of the project, I moved around the room, working one-on-one with some students who were having a hard time, helping them develop their ideas and outlines. I was familiar with the recent projects each student had done on the Holocaust, and this helped draw out their background knowledge. It’s difficult to hear the students on the video at times. I encouraged them to reach their claim before lunch.
I felt I exhibited good planning and preparation, and that I created a collaborative atmosphere and a classroom environment in which students felt safe and comfortable participating. (They were almost too quiet, but they were very aware of being filmed.) I believe my instruction, aside from my voice and face being a little flat, was proficient, and that students learned from this lesson and were engaged. I collaborated with my CT before hand to discuss what had worked and hadn’t for her in the past, and I incorporated my Supervisor’s feedback, which demonstrates professional responsibility. I like what I did for the most part, but definitely see ways in which I can improve and grow. I wish I hadn’t been under the weather that day, but I know/hope this will allow for lots of room for improvement before the next video assignment. I believe that the objective was met, and I was pleased at how well students collaborated on the graphic organizer brainstorming portion of the lesson. (Jack’s answer at 17:30 demonstrated a depth of understanding learned from several of our previous lessons, and I liked that I asked Jessica at 20:10 “What was that you said earlier, Jessica, when I said ‘Don’t forget that’?”) Some had difficulty moving on to the outline, and in future lessons, I would like to ask more constructive, open-ended questions at this point of instruction to get them to the right answer, rather than leading them there too obviously.
This opportunity to watch myself teach provided valuable insight and an chance to be more objective about how I am delivering my instruction. I now have revised my approach, and will be conscientious about incorporating more expressive tone of voice and facial expression, though I’m hopeful that that will come naturally on a day when I am feeling better. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to see myself teaching, and I appreciate the perspective this assignment helped me gain. We are not always what we perceive ourselves to be, and it takes careful self-reflection and observation to analyze and improve. As a teacher, I am always hoping to improve!
Mrs. Eppenbach will periodically post blogs about what's going on in the classroom. Stay tuned!